May 7, 2005
Gays versus God?
R. Douglas Elliott,* B.A., J.D.
Is God against human rights?
Do gay rights mean the end of religious freedom?
The struggle over lesbian and gay equality has been characterized by Justice Scalia as a “culture war” between gay rights groups and religious organizations. There can be no doubt that major faith based organizations have been among the most vocal opponents of gay and lesbian equality, and of same-sex marriage. Despite their vigorous attacks on lesbian and gay equality, they quite perversely seek to portray themselves as the victims of a war on their own rights on God.
language used by even our more mainstream religious opponents is sometimes
Unfortunately, appeals to God’s will have a sorry history in supporting discrimination, including discrimination in marriage. In the lower court’s ruling in Loving, dealing with interracial marriage bans, the Court invoked religion and natural law in the following language:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
Some day, the religious arguments against same-sex marriage, advanced with such fervor today, will sound just as ridiculous.
It is a source of great sadness to me that people of faith are among the most vocal opponents of my human rights. Like Dr. King, Bishop Tutu, and Mahatma Ghandi, there are many persons whose faith inspires them to support human rights. In the case I won, the two couples were married in the presence of their families and friends in a Christian church, just like millions of Canadians before them.
This is not really a new debate. Ever since the concept of inalienable human rights emerged in the 18th century, there have been three principal schools of thought that continue to attract support today.
are those who do not support the concept of human rights. Some do so because
they believe the law mast always reflect the will of the majority, without
regard to what Edmund Burke referred to as the “tyranny of the majority.”
However, many opponents of human rights do not rest their case on the
will of the majority, unless that majority happens to be comprised of
their co-religionists. Their opposition to human
rights is based on their religious belief that any such rights are morally
relative, because the state ultimately should be governed by the laws
of God and not the laws of men. That is the situation in
course, even before the Bill of Rights, William Penn and his Quakers came
On the opposite pole of this ancient debate, there are those who see organized religion as the enemy of human rights. This was the philosophy of the French Revolution that replaced churches with Temples of Reason. Resenting the state’s role in enforcing Church doctrine, and under the leadership of a gay aristocrat, they repealed French sodomy laws and replaced religious marriage with purely civil marriage. In their view, equality rights had to trump religious freedom.
There lies a third way between these polar opposites.
the western world, we live in secular democracies. Sadly, secularism has
become a dirty word in the eyes of some Christians. But what is the alternative?
Theocracy? Millions of humans have been tortured and killed
in the name of God. The combination of religious passion and state power
has a tendency
to tyranny and great evil. The result can be disastrous for the church
and state alike. In the
a secular democracy, there need be no conflict between being a person
of faith and having a commitment to human rights. It was sincere Christian
faith that motivated the English anti-slavery movement, for example. The
American model is a system that respects religion but preserves a “wall
of separation between Church and state”, as
Long ago, John Adams wrote these moving words:
The doctrine of human equality is founded entirely in the Christian doctrine that we are all children of the same Father, all accountable to Him for our conduct to one another, all equally bound to respect each other’s self love.
idea of a secular democracy that ensures fundamental respect for freedom
of religion and equality for all was
the guise of religious freedom, and wrapped in the flag of patriotism,
Christian fundamentalists have embarked on a second American Revolution.
This revolution seeks to destroy the rule of law and to restore religious
tyranny in a way that has not been seen since the Puritans burned witches
at the stake. Knowing that the constitution protects Americans
from oppression, they have begun the process of amending constitutions
to imbed their religious beliefs into them, as seen in the 22 recent amendments
taking away the rights of gay and lesbian Americans. Knowing that an independent
judiciary is the front line of defence of minority rights, they have engaged
in a sustained attack on the rule of law and the very legitimacy of the
courts, an attack unprecedented in American history. Judges are not the
handmaidens of the legislature or of the president, except in dictatorships.
Still less should they be enforcing God’s will, as they understand it.
internal revolution poses a threat to the worldwide gay and lesbian community.
The religious right in the
for same-sex couples is part of a trend that has been gaining momentum
in all Western democracies. It is a reality in two European countries,
and is likely to become a reality in all states that are members of the
European Union. It has become a legal reality in
is our birthright as humans, and equality is not contingent on any religious
leader’s approval. The international movement for same-sex marriage has
served as a flashpoint between proponents of equality and human rights,
and advocates of salvation through theocracy. The struggle for the hearts
and minds of our fellow human beings will continue. But in times of trouble,
we can comfort ourselves in the lessons of history that are so close to
the heart of
Douglas Elliott is a partner with Roy Elliott Kim O’Connor LLP,